It had been some of the longest days of his life, but at around 5:15 p.m. on the evening of April 4, Sammy McCorkle finally stepped onto Memorial Field.
“I could not wait to step on this field for two hours and twenty minutes, and just…” McCorkle trailed off, sighing. The word he was looking for was “breathe.”
After 18 years of coaching for Dartmouth football, Memorial Field is Sammy McCorkle’s getaway — it represents an escape from the stress of everyday life and a place to be present and engage with the sport he loves.
However, this month, returning to the field felt different for McCorkle, who led practice for the first time ever without his best friend, Dartmouth head football coach Buddy Teevens. The Big Green football program continues to grapple with the hospitalization of Teevens after he was involved in a severe bicycle crash on March 16 in St. Augustine, Florida.
Teevens’s accident has deeply impacted coaches and players of the Big Green football team. The players and staff who The Dartmouth interviewed expressed how it is difficult to adapt while also dealing with sadness in regards to their coach’s accident and the recent death of their teammate Josh Balara ’24.
“It’s tough when you don’t have your head coach there — someone who built this program from the ground up, someone who recruited you to come here, who set you up with so many amazing opportunities,” Quinten Arello ’23, a fifth-year safety and last year’s captain, said. “We don’t forget about Coach T, but we kind of let everything loose and we get a breath of fresh air and relax — and play how he would want us to play.”
McCorkle affirmed that the Big Green played on Tuesday like they always have — with intensity and purpose.
“We’re continuing our business like we always do,” McCorkle said. “We want to make sure we play max effort, and we want to hold each other accountable.”
After the Big Green’s disappointing 3-7 campaign last year following back-to-back Ivy League championships the prior two seasons, the team has work to do. And it’s exactly the work Teevens wants done.
“Nick Howard ’23, a fifth-year quarterback and last year’s captain, said McCorkle and Teevens are “very similar guys,” adding, “We’ve hit the ground running, and I think everybody feels really, really comfortable … It’s not like we’re stepping away and into an entirely new program.”
Due to his previous coaching roles with the defensive secondary and special teams, McCorkle is the only coach other than Teevens to have worked with the entire team. And that, McCorkle explained, is crucial.
“I feel like it’s a lot easier for me to go over there on the offensive side and say something to an offensive player,” McCorkle said. “It’s not the first time I’ve gotten on him, because I’ve gotten on him in special teams drills or given him kudos.”
But it’s not just a trust thing, McCorkle added.
“I think that’s where there’s a little bit of an advantage for me,” he said. “I’m over there [on defense] and I can tell the offensive guys, ‘I’m telling you, if you do this, that’s going to cause them problems.’”
The return of players like Howard and Arello –– leaders in terms of experience –– has also benefited the team.
“They realize [that the] little things are a big thing — they make a difference,” McCorkle said.“Because they’ve been down that road before, they’ve been here long enough … It’s helpful for those older guys to be able to push that message.”
Safety Sam Koscho ’23, linebacker Marques White ’23 and wide receiver Isaac Boston ’24 also returned to playing following injuries last year. Now, around 80 returning players have game experience, which is significant as a majority of the team does not have to start from square one.
As the Big Green program awaits Teevens’s recovery and updates from his wife Kirsten, the squad is in capable hands. McCorkle explained that despite the new title, not much has been added to his plate because of the support of Dino Cauteruccio, Dartmouth’s director of football operations.
“Dino, he’s the best in the business,” McCorkle said. “He has done a phenomenal job for me … Him and I sit down for hours — and we’ve sat down for hours — and we just schedule every single day, we schedule every single thing … He’s a machine.”
McCorkle also emphasized that he and the other staff are making sure the players feel supported and can grieve their coach’s accident properly.
“Everybody handles the situation their own way,” McCorkle explained. “And the biggest thing we want guys to know is we’re here for each other. And we want them to know, if you're struggling and you're having a tough time, let us know –– reach out.”
The players have supported themselves better than McCorkle could have imagined.
“Everybody thinks it’s the coaches supporting the kids,” he said. “It was actually the opposite. When we had our first team meeting — just seeing our players, it made me feel better.”
For Arello, that part was obvious.
“It’s not ever going to be a one-man show,” Arello said. “Coach McCorkle is at the helm, but I think we’re going to see everybody rally this spring ball.”